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Friday, April 22, 2011

Are You There At the Foot of the Cross?

I am here at the foot of the cross today.  I am here at the cross today because I know that I stand in need of a savior.  I am here at the cross today because I am seeking a love that is unconditional, compassionate, forgiving and redeeming.  I am here at the cross today because it is the only place where I will find such things.  Is that why you are here at the cross today?
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Judas the betrayer the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the betrayer, stir.  Are you a betrayer?  Do you follow Jesus with a skeptic caution, wanting to be in his inner circle yet still wondering what you can get out it?  It was Judas who worried about the money.  It as Judas who thought Mary’s foot washing of Jesus with expensive perfume was extravagant and wasteful.  It was Judas whose kiss could be bought.  To think that an act of affection could be turned into such an act of treachery is appalling, until I consider the ways that I do the same.  I want to follow Jesus and yet I want to follow my own way.  I want the sacrifice that Jesus has given to me and yet I don’t want to make sacrifices in my own life.  The fear that lurks in my soul today is this: if given the chance for selfish gain through the betrayal of my Lord, I am not confident that I would say no.  And so that is why I am here at the cross.  Because on the very night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread and the cup, gave thanks and shared it with those closest to him.  He gave them a glimpse of how his brokenness will heal ours, how the shedding of his blood will shed our shame and wash us in grace.  Yes, I am here at the cross today because I need his brokenness to heal mine.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Peter’s denial, the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the denier, stir.  Are you a denier?  Peter followed Jesus with almost reckless abandon.  Eager to be on the front lines, Peter defied Jesus when Jesus predicted that he would deny him.  Peter felt that such an act of treachery was impossible, beyond his ability.  Peter believed with all his heart that he could never do such a thing.  And yet, later that same day, Peter does deny Christ.  Of course, he’s not the only one, but his is memorable.  I can certainly find myself in this narrative as well.  In my core I want to be a zealous, committed, follower of Christ.  I want to stand out from the crowd with my enthusiasm for our Lord.  And yet, when that causes others to be uncomfortable with me, when they push away because they find it so odd that one would choose Jesus, when they challenge my faith choice, well, then I find that standing alone for Christ becomes quite isolating.  And I choose to tone it down a bit to fit the circumstances.  I am tempted to want to fit in more than I want to profess Christ.  I want to go with the way of the world instead of following the way of Christ because at times I don’t want to be counter-cultural, at times I want to be swept into a crowd who praises me and honors me and lifts me up.  Sometimes it’s hard to relinquish my place of honor for the place of honor that Christ deserves and so I deny him his place as Lord of my live and instead allow the world to carry me on their shoulders.  Yes, Christ’s darkest hour revealed Peter’s darkest side and in most human instances that darkness would’ve hovered forever between them.  But we know that that later Jesus restores Peter and even asks him to try again.  He invites him to feed his sheep and to share the good news of who Jesus is with others.  Yes, Jesus assures Peter of his deep and abiding love for him by asking him to love him once again.  I too need to hear that Jesus loves me and to affirm that I love him and to be restored to a place where I can be empowered for ministry as well.  I am here at the cross today because I am in need of a second chance.      
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about Jesus’ accusers the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the accuser stir.  Are you an accuser?  Is keeping rituals more important to you than pursuing the truth?  Are you carefully following the rules while missing the heart of the gospel?  Jesus’ accusers reveal how far away they are from understanding the gospel of grace.  They are trapped in a system where simply performing the ritual becomes much more important than honoring the core value of the rituals.  We see in John’s gospel that when Jesus was first taken to Caiaphas’ house, the accusers did not want to follow him into the Roman courtyard, for this would’ve defiled them and they would’ve been unable to celebrate the Passover.  As if this is the only thing in their lives that is defiling them!  I can’t get over how concerned they are with the ritual of “remaining clean” while clearly handing an innocent man over to be killed for crimes that he has not committed.  Makes me wonder where in my own life I am keeping rituals instead of following Jesus with love in my heart.  Am I reading scripture yet not allowing it to shape me?  Are my prayers simply uttered out of obligation so that I will feel better instead of truly believing that Jesus hears my prayers and longs to answer them?  Am I attending church, worshiping God, going through all of the right motions, yet privately shunning Jesus in my day to day life?  Is my own righteousness rooted in following the letter of the law rather than allowing a spirit of grace to motivate and guide me?  Another compelling detail of the narrative is this: The accusers cannot answer the questions set forth by Caiaphas.  Instead they weave their own story about why they are there.  When asked what charge they are bringing against Jesus, they simply scream that he is guilty, as if it becomes truer if they shout it louder.  When asked to take responsibility for their actions, unable to get the death warrant on their own, the people demand that the governor give them what they want just because they want it, not because it has any basis in justice or righteousness or truth.  We watch as Christ’s innocence is twisted into guilt.  Here I feel anguish as I see myself in this story.  God asks me questions about my own life and I deflect them with answers about others.  God asks me to take responsibility for actions, to justify my demands, but I find myself wanting others to do my dirty work for the  outcomes that I desire, however sinister or selfish they may be.  My business is often so rooted in this world, yet Jesus reminds us His kingdom is not of this world, and that he was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what he says is true.
     I am here at the cross today because I am in need of the truth.  I need to be reminded that Jesus’ kingdom is not of the world, but is about wholly different things.  I need to encounter the truth and have the falsehood in my life washed away.  I am here at the cross today because while the accusers took Christ’s innocence and twisted it into guilt, what I need is for my guilt to be transformed into innocence.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about how Pilate had Christ beaten and sentenced to be crucified, the deep places within my heart where I know I’ve been the one to sentence Jesus, stir.  Are you the one who has sentenced Christ to death on a cross? 
     We all are.  Yes, we flinch when we read about the flogging.  Of course, we hate the pain and the torture that Jesus experienced.  We know his death is unjust.  We know that those who sentenced him knew that he was innocent and yet when offered a well-known criminal, Barabbas, the crowd still wanted Jesus to be the one killed.  Yes Herod, yes Pilate, you are both right.  Jesus is innocent and does not deserve die.  You are guilty, we are guilty and we are the ones who deserve to die and yet we cannot face that possibility.  So we ask Jesus to do it for us.  And Jesus, all the while knowing that we will die if he does not, chooses to not fight back but instead subjects himself to the worst kind of death.  And Pilate and Herod and all who have gathered to make these accusations against Jesus must now realize that it is Jesus, the innocent man, who stands in for Barabbas and it is Jesus who stands in for all of the guilty ones who  surround him with their lies and their deception and their conniving.  It is Jesus who pays the price for all of the sin that abounds.
     It’s hard to come into this part of the narrative.  It is perhaps against the backdrop of the cries of crucify him that we see how desperate our need really is.  For Jesus, who is sinless, takes on our lies and our deception and our conniving and nails it to the cross so that we ourselves will never have to face the sentence that he has endured on our behalf.  I am here at the cross today because I too am Barabbas.  I am here to face the guilt of my own sin but also to embrace the gift of being set free from my punishment because Christ has paid my sentence for me.
     I am here at the cross today because I stand in need of a savior.  I know this because as we read about the death of Jesus I am standing at the foot of the cross with my sins exposed.  Are you one of the sinners?  Remarkably, Jesus pleads with father to forgive us even as they pound the nails into his hands and feet.  He takes on our ignorance and excuses our inability to understand what is happening.  And the crowd responds with scoffing even as Jesus now hangs on the cross.  Little do they know that their taunts and questions about his being the Messiah, their King have deep truth embedded within.  Even as they badger him to save himself, to save us all, they do not grasp on any level that it is only through his staying on the cross that we will all be saved.  One of the sinners has realized this…his confession from his own cross reveals the depths of Christ’s compassion…the criminal asks to be saved and Jesus assures him that that very day, he shall be with him in paradise.  And so it is that we find ourselves here as well.  No matter what kind of cross we feel we are bearing, no matter the places in our lives we that we feel there is no way out, no matter the places where we feel that it is only death and destruction that await us, we are invited to turn to Jesus and ask that he save us and be granted the promise of a life in paradise with him.  That is why there can be a quiet joy at being a sinner at the cross.  Jesus knows that it is finished.  Jesus knows that he must entrust his spirit into the Father’s hands.  He knows that it is time for him to die.  His death comes, the darkness covers, the mourning begins.
     And here I am a sinner at the foot of the cross.  I am the thief hanging next to Jesus crying out to be saved, but I am also the soldier who sees and believes that Jesus truly is the Son of God.          
     Yes, I am a sinner at the foot of the cross who, with limited understanding, embraces the reality that the death of Christ leads me to everlasting life.  Yes, I am more sinful than I ever dared believe; and yet I am also more loved than I ever dared hope.  Are you that beloved sinner as well?
     I am here at the foot of the cross today because I know that I stand in need of a savior.  And I am one of those who believe that Jesus is my Savior.  Are you one of the believers?  If you are here today in need of a savior as well, then believe that Christ has died for your sins and wants you to live as one who will be with him in paradise. 
     We are here at the foot of the cross in need of a savior.  Thanks be to God for sending his son Jesus Christ to die for us.  Amen.